Acupuncture Vs. Dry Needling: What’s the Difference?

Acupuncture Vs. Dry Needling What’s the Difference

Acupuncture and dry needling are two different procedures that use very thin stainless-steel needles. In both, the needles are inserted into the skin, which is believed to provide relief from pain and discomfort. This is all about their similarities.

Even though, at one glance, you may get confused between acupuncture and dry needling, their purposes are completely different.

While acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine which is believed to reduce pain and other discomforts at specific points in the body, dry needling targets certain points that are causing irritation and resolve them. 

Besides this, they also differ in various aspects, which we will discuss in this article. If you want to know the difference between the two, keep reading where we have compared acupuncture vs. dry needling. 

Difference Between Acupuncture and Dry Needling

Despite their similarities in the use of needles, their unique traits distinguish them. Let’s find out!



Acupuncture is an alternative Chinese medicine that has been used since time immemorial (1). 

The basics of acupuncture revolve around healing energy, qi. It believes that any pain or discomfort in the body is the result of blocked or interrupted energy (qi). The process of needle insertion removes these blockages and brings back the energy flow to a state of balance (2).  

At the same time, it is believed that besides bringing back the energy flow, acupuncture also stimulates the nervous system. 

One needs to be a licensed acupuncturist to practice acupuncture. Usually, a well-trained acupuncturist undergoes training for three to four years where he learns diagnosis as well as treatment of the condition using needle insertion.  

Benefits of Acupuncture

Acupuncture can manage a number of symptoms, such as-

  • pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • menstrual cramps
  • allergies

It is believed that acupuncture helps lower inflammation and increase blood flow. Research about its release of endorphins is ongoing. 

It is often used in treating lower back pain, knee pain, neck pain, migraines, headaches, and even labor pain. Besides being a pain reliever, acupuncture is also believed to help in overcoming smoking addiction and managing depression. 

Dry Needling

Dry Needling

While acupuncture is thousands of years old technique, dry needling is just a few decades old. It is a modern treatment to ease muscular pain. 

In the procedure, the technician uses very thin and fine needles to insert the targeted areas, also called the trigger points in your muscles. The needles are made of stainless steel and doesn’t inject any fluid, thus named dry needling (3). 

As the needles are inserted in the trigger points, it causes intramuscular stimulation, providing relief from the spasms. How long the needles will stay inserted depends upon your spasm or how hard or knotted the tissue has become. 

While acupuncture requires professional training of 3-4 years, there is no such regulation for dry needling. 

Benefits of Dry Needling

Dry needling is often used to manage symptoms of sports injury. Athletes who are prone to get muscle spasms take help of a therapist who may offer for dry needling to combat it.  

Below are the benefits of dry needling (4)- 

  • Relief from muscular pain and spasms 
  • Improves flexibility 
  • Increases range of motion 

Acupuncture vs. Dry Needling    

Below is the table differentiating acupuncture vs. dry needling under different heads-

AspectAcupunctureDry Needling
TechniqueTraditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapyWestern medical technique
OriginOriginated in China thousands of years agoDeveloped in the 20th century
TheoryBased on the concept of Qi and meridiansBased on anatomical and neurophysiological principles
PurposeBalancing Qi flow and restoring healthTreating musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction
NeedlesThin, flexible needles inserted at specific acupuncture pointsSolid, thicker needles inserted into trigger points or tight bands in muscles
Depth of InsertionVaries depending on the acupuncture point and condition being treatedTypically inserted superficially into muscles or trigger points
Treatment FocusAddresses a wide range of health issuesPrimarily focuses on musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction
Treatment DurationSessions may last 30-60 minutesSessions are typically shorter, around 15-30 minutes
SensationPatients may feel tingling, warmth, or heaviness at the insertion site, known as “de qi” sensationPatients may experience a twitch response or local muscle response
Side EffectsRare, may include bruising, soreness, or faintingPossible side effects include soreness, bruising, or temporary worsening of symptoms
RegulationPractitioners are often licensed acupuncturists trained in TCMPractitioners may include physical therapists, chiropractors, or medical doctors with additional training

Is there any Side Effects of Acupuncture and Dry Needling?

Usually, both practices are safe when done under an experienced practitioner. However, mild side effects such as pain at the site of injection, bruising, and bleeding are sometimes experienced. Luckily, these side effects resolve within a few hours to days. 

If nonsterile needles are used, people may suffer serious complications such as

  • bloodborne illnesses
  • infections
  • diseases

Likewise, dry needling may trigger the same side effects. 


If you are confused between acupuncture and dry needling and not able to decide the suitable treatment option between the two, go for the one that you believe is more reliable.

Acupuncture holds a lot of positive research as it’s one of the oldest alternative and traditional Chinese therapies. On the contrary, dry needling is relatively new, is supported by limited research, and lacks large-scale studies. 

At the same time, acupuncture specialists are highly trained as they have undergone training as well as passed exams to become one. But dry needling doesn’t have any training, certification courses, or licensing exams. This can lead to unsafe needle practices.

So, choose mindfully and make sure to get the treatment from an experienced and preferably licensed practitioner to reap maximum benefits. 

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